I was at the downtown Seattle library yesterday doing some research on an old Hollywood screenwriter when I came across the following cartoon in a 1933 copy of the The Saturday Evening Post (founded AD 1728 by Benj. Franklin). I know a bit of racial history in this country, I know the era I was in, but you still do a double-take at the combo of cutesy/kitschy and horror:
That's a Henry comic by Carl Anderson. I remember seeing them as a kid. He kind of freaked me out: bald and silent, he looked like he was made of taffy. Anderson created him in 1932, they were taken over by others in the 1940s, and kept going in some dailies until about 1990.
The magazines themselves are amazing: large, edit-heavy, often more than 100 pages, and generally trying to make sense of the world. In just one issue, June 24, 1933, you could read Dorothy Thompson's boots-on-the-ground take on the new German Socialist Party led by Adolf Hitler, along with short stories by Booth Tarkington and F. Scott Fitzgerald—who, by the way, didn't even make the cover. His name didn't mean enough in 1933 to sell the magazine. Tarkington's and Thompson's did.
But even while trying to make sense of the world, they had this one huge blind spot. In another issue, from ‘34, there’s a non-fiction piece by Mississippi author Harris Dickson, “The First Law of Farming,” that includes photos of African Americans, and captions reading, for example, “On ‘Ration Day,’ Negroes Flock to the Store, Chattering Like Happy Blackbirds.” Yes, they capitalized most words in captions back then. Maybe where Trump got it.
All of this is less to condemn the people in the past for their blind spot than to acknowledge the distance traveled. Also to wonder what our blind spot is. Because there surely is one, seen every day, which will be just as obvious to people 100 years from now.